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N.J.: Law proposed on seclusion use; "many...regularly locked inside padded 'quiet room'"

Oct 4, 2022, NJ.com: N.J. schools must notify parents when they lock kids in padded ‘quiet rooms,’ proposed law says https://www.nj.com/education/2022/10/nj-schools-must-notify-parents-when-they-lock-kids-in-padded-quiet-rooms-proposed-law-says.html

New Jersey schools would be required to immediately notify parents if a student is locked inside a padded isolation closet under a proposed law designed to force educators to be more transparent about the controversial technique often used on disabled students.

The proposed legislation follows an NJ Advance Media investigation, “Inside the quiet rooms,” published in June that found at least 1,150 New Jersey students have been forced into seclusion spaces in recent years for alleged misbehavior in class. Isolation rooms are banned in several others states, but they are legal in New Jersey in extreme cases when students may hurt themselves or others.

However, the NJ Advance Media report found many of the students, including disabled students with limited ability to communicate, were regularly locked inside the padded “quiet rooms” for relatively minor offenses by teachers without their parents’ knowledge. Some were left screaming inside the closet-sized spaces for hours without access to a bathroom or even a chair to sit in.

Until the report was published, several parents said they did not believe their children when they said they had been locked in closets….

Under the proposed law:

All public schools and private schools that serve students with disabilities would be required to notify parents or guardians immediately by phone, text or other electronic communication if a child is placed in a seclusion room.

Schools would be required to give families a full written report of the incident within 48 hours. The state Department of Education would be required for the first time to collect annual data on the number of times “quiet rooms” or any type of physical restraints are used on a student with disabilities — including how long the child was put in a seclusion room or physically restrained using a hold or other technique to keep them immobile.

The state would be required to publish data about how many students are placed in seclusion rooms or restrained. The numbers would be broken down by county and track the race, gender and age of students. The state would also be required to collect data on how often schools require students to get a psychiatric evaluation in order to return to class.

Seclusion closets have been used in New Jersey schools for years with little or no oversight by the state. They often have innocuous names — including the Reset Room, the Calming Space, the Reflection Room, the Chill Zone or the Timeout Booth.

Some educators and advocates for the disabled say the quiet rooms are a necessary tool in schools in cases where students with autism or intellectual disabilities regularly become violent and need a safe space to calm down. A 2018 law signed by Gov. Chris Christie allows schools to use seclusion rooms in cases where students put themselves or others in “immediate physical danger.”

However, critics say the rooms are abused by some teachers and used to lock up students for relatively minor infractions. The limited amount of federal data about the use of quiet rooms in New Jersey shows seclusion is disproportionately used for disabled and minority students, especially Black children….

The bill, S3027, was approved by the Senate Education Committee last week in a 5-0 vote. It now goes to the Senate budget committee.

An identical measure, A4675, was introduced in the state Assembly Thursday but has not had a hearing yet. The legislation would need to be approved by the full Senate and Assembly before going to Gov. Phil Murphy to consider whether to sign it into law. Following NJ Advance Media’s “Inside the quiet rooms” report last summer, Murphy’s spokeswoman said the governor would consider any legislation rewriting the state’s rules on how padded isolation rooms are used in schools.

“The Murphy Administration is committed to ensuring that all children in New Jersey have access to safe and healthy learning environments. The governor is open to working with the Legislature to assess how seclusion spaces are used in our schools and determine if any changes are needed,” said Alyana Alfaro Post, Murphy’s spokeswoman said in June.

A view of the seclusion or timeout room in the corner of a classroom at Monroe Township's Whitehall Elementary School in 2018. The school later said it was eliminating the room after a parent's complaint went viral on Facebook. (Photo provided/Monroe Township Schools)